Spook Who Sat by the Door

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"Their first mistake was letting him in. Their biggest mistake was letting him out!"
  • NR
  • 1973
  • 1 hr 42 min
  • 7.1  (1,525)

In the year 1973, director Ivan Dixon brought to the screen an explosive action-drama titled "The Spook Who Sat by the Door" with a narrative that speaks truth to power. The film follows the story of Dan Freeman (Lawrence Cook), the first Black man to join the CIA, whose talents and intelligence are dismissed because of his race. Though he finds himself assaulted by racism and discrimination from his white colleagues, Dan endures the CIA training and becomes a spy. But once he completes his training, he is promptly released from the agency, only to return to his hometown of Chicago as a janitor.

Freeman secures the janitorial position in hopes of working his way up to a more significant position in the city. However, he quickly takes note of the mistreatment and social injustice inflicted on the Black community. These observations and his experience with the CIA sets a fire within him, leading him to embark on a revolutionary mission to bring equality to Chicago’s Southside.

Dan's primary goal is to organize a secret Black army, training local gangs to rebel against their oppressors. Over the course of the film, he is joined by other passionate Black people, both in the planning and implementation of his subversive plans, and his political motivations lead him to intensely study the methods used by leaders previously like Che Guevara and Malcolm X to achieve their goals.

The film portrays the Black community's dirt-poor conditions on the Southside, focusing upon how the community has been abandoned by American society. The most compelling scene of the movie showcases Freeman's spy experience as he explores a white supremacists gathering, where he receives a brutal beating in which an eye is almost gouged out before escaping. Freeman is depicted as a smart, abled, and dynamic character who has been denied opportunities to share his talent and knowledge, and it's this portrayal that drives his determination.

The movie also explores the historical context of America in the 60s and ’70s. As such, a fight between freedom and oppression underlines every scene, making it clear that what Freeman was doing was long overdue, with little regard to the consequences of the defiant act.

Aside from the historical context that the film provides, the strengths of the narrative are also drawn from a cast that's genuinely committed to their roles. Cook, in particular, gives us a powerful performance, playing his big scenes with conviction and a palpable sense of urgency. He has an excellent grasp of the script's more prominent philosophies and manages to portray Freeman as both vulnerable and determined. The scenes of him manipulating his CIA colleagues to think of him as a simple-minded black janitor are impressive.

Paula Kelly plays Freeman's love interest, and their relationship isn't entirely explored within the film. However, Kelly creates a compelling character who gets across the urgency and intensity of the revolutionary act.

In terms of technical elements, "The Spook Who Sat by the Door" is a bit dated, but it doesn't detract from the storytelling. The cinematography is straightforward and functions to convey a sense of time and place effectively. The film also features a strong musical score that adds subtext and depth to events.

In conclusion, "The Spook Who Sat by the Door" remains a significant cinematic work that resonates with social and political commentary today. At its core, this film is a powerful reflection on the nature of oppression, race, and power in America. The film exposes the inequalities that continue to subjugate people of colour, even though much has been achieved since 1973. With excellent performances from its actors and important themes that remain relevant, it is a must-watch for cinema lovers, history enthusiasts, and those seeking to understand the fight for racial equality in America.

Spook Who Sat by the Door
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  • Release Date
  • MPAA Rating
  • Runtime
    1 hr 42 min
  • Language
  • IMDB Rating
    7.1  (1,525)